From elementary school gym class on, we’ve all been indoctrinated to believe that working out without stretching was a sure-fire way to end up with a decrease performance and injury. And so, most of us, whether we’re preparing to lift weights or run will start with an extra 10 minutes of static stretches, like touching our toes, believing that that’s what we’re supposed to do. But, is that really the case?
Recent research, however, shows that this type of static stretching before your workout might be, not just counterproductive, but risky.
While there have been many studies that have found that pre-workout static stretching doesn’t improve performance or reduce soreness, a review of more recent research shows something startling.
In March 2013, researchers for the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports looked through 104 studies conducted between 1966 and 2010 to try to understand the effects that static stretching has on performance. Overall, they found that long stretches, lasting 90 seconds or more, reduced strength in those muscles by 5.5 percent. This related to a drop in explosive muscle contractions, like those vital to sprinters, by 2.8 percent.
Other studies have discovered that static stretching reduces the amount of weight that athletes can lift by a surprising 8.3 percent. This might not sound like much but think about it this way: If you normally bench press 180 pounds, an 8.3 percent decrease would translate to a lose of about 15 pounds. Generally, this weakening was also associated with a reported loss of balance and stability.
How To Warm-Up
Notice that all these studies deal with static stretching and only static stretching. None of this research deals with static stretching combined with another light warm-up. The real issue at work here seems to be the fact that these stretches put stress on the muscles and connective tissue. So if this is done when these tissues are cold, it can do more damage then good. The story changes when the stretching is accompanied by a more active warm-up, like a light jog.
Another alternative is dynamic stretching. Use arm circles, leg swings and Frankenstein walks to increase your flexibility, blood flow and muscle temperature. This type of warm-up also help prime your body for the demands of exercise and increases the speed of your nerve impulses.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use static stretching at all, just be sure to use it appropriately. Static stretching is a great way to end your workout after a brief cool down.